Alabama's Championship Moment

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Nov 4, 2012


CFN Instant Analysis: LSU had the game in hand, but the Tide found a way to pull it out.

Richard Cirminiello

There’s a lot of football left to be played between now and Jan. 7, but Alabama just won a second straight national championship with that final drive in Baton Rouge.

If anyone was going to beat the Crimson Tide in 2012, it was going to be LSU in Death Valley. The venue. The atmosphere. The defense. No one matches up better with the Tide than the Tigers. But even a three-point deficit with less than two minutes left and a lot of real estate until paydirt couldn’t keep ‘Bama QB AJ McCarron from engineering a memorable game-winning drive on a night when he clearly didn’t play his best game.

Hats off to Les Miles and his LSU team. It played better than I expected, with QB Zach Mettenberger being the poster child of that effort. The Tigers converted where the Tide couldn’t, outgaining their visitor and playing a near perfect second half until becoming a little too passive defensively on that final drive.

‘Bama did not play its best game of the season on Saturday … yet still earned that rare victory in a night game in Baton Rouge. The Crimson Tide closed like a reigning champion, setting the stage for becoming a repeat champion a little over two months from now. There’s one game every season that catapults a team to a new level. For Alabama, it’ll go down as Week 10 in a hostile environment with its back firmly pressed to the wall.

Unlike Round 2 in New Orleans this past January, this chapter of the rivalry was every bit as good as advertised. Strike that … it was even better than advertised in an instant classic that could make the rest of the regular season a little anticlimactic.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

Whatever the circumstances, champions seize opportunity.

Many in the world of college football will likely point to the fact that, as the saying goes, the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent the team employing it from winning. But that’s far too simple an answer to explain Bama’s thrilling come from behind, seemingly “upset” victory against LSU - if a nine point favorite could ever find itself an upset winner.

Champions seize opportunity.

That’s the storyline on a night where the No. 1 team in the nation, Alabama, was outplayed in nearly every facet of the game vs. the home team LSU Tigers…yet nevertheless walked away the victor, with their back-to-back championship dreams still alive.

For 59 minutes AJ McCarron, had a night he’d like to forget. Until just like in 2011, redemption came knocking.

A year ago in Tuscaloosa, LSU’s defense made Bama QB AJ McCarron look equally bad. Two months later in the BCS title game, with six weeks to prepare, McCarron looked like a different quarterback.

Flash forward to Saturday in Death Valley, and once again McCarron was largely pedestrian. But on two, "two minute" drives, McCarron looked special once again.

Perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised, given that like the six weeks he had to prepare for the BCS title game, two minutes drills are often scripted and practiced ad nauseam.

But whatever the circumstances, Bama was faced with an opportunity in the Superdome last January, and they seized it. Faced once again with an opportunity, with just 1:34 to play, in front of a hostile crowd, the defending BCS champions would not let it slip away.

Because champions seize opportunity.

READ MORE: Mitchell: Bama Seizes Opportunity.

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

If you thought last year's November clash between Alabama and LSU was a terrific game, you were proven wrong on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, roughly one year after the Crimson Tide and Tigers took their SEC West rivalry to the college football mountaintop. The November 2012 reunion of Nick Saban and Les Miles showed what a high-level football fight looks like. It brought to the table the ingredients that were conspicuously missing on Nov. 5, 2011.

First, though, let's point out the similarities between 2011 and 2012 in Tide-Tigers: Like last year's confrontation between these SEC powers, failures in the kicking game loomed large, only this time, it was LSU that failed to boot through a few crucial field goals. This year, it was Les Miles who gambled and lost, whereas Nick Saban was the gambler who fell short in 2011. Defenses held the upper hand for most of the night – broadly speaking, that was and is a point of commonality claimed by these two contests.

However, that's where the connections between 2011 and 2012 ended.

In this episode of college football's best ongoing drama, the quarterbacks – so conspicuous by their absence last year – stepped forward. In the first half, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, helped by Barrett Jones and the rest of his superb offensive line, owned the stage and distributed the ball to his receivers with the sureness he exhibited in the BCS National Championship Game back in January. In the second half, Zach Mettenberger – much like Stephen Garcia of South Carolina in the Gamecocks' 2010 win over (then-) defending national champion Alabama – emerged from the shadows to put together the best football of his life, picking apart the Crimson Tide's secondary.

In order to beat Alabama, offenses have to throw the ball, and LSU became the first team to establish appreciable consistency in the air, a tribute to Mettenberger, receivers who finally stopped dropping passes, and an offensive line that acquitted itself well against Alabama's defensive front. LSU's ability to throw the ball provided the punch-counterpunch quality that the 2011 edition of Tide-Tigers plainly failed to provide, exposing last year's November game as an inferior version of the 2012 model.

Speaking of quarterbacking, McCarron – despite being rattled for most of the second half – was able to take the wheel in Tiger Stadium… at night… with 94 seconds left… and no timeouts… and guide his team to a game-winning, season-making touchdown… in only 43 of those 94 seconds.

This wasn't a one-sided game in the sense that the two defenses were the only units that made plays. Finally, we saw an Alabama-LSU game in which both offenses legitimately challenged those defenses and, at times, surpassed them. This was the game college football wanted in November of 2011. This was the best possible advertisement for Southeastern Conference football. This was the kind of pigskin portrait that paints the SEC in a beautiful, bright and brilliant light.

The extra year was worth the wait.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

Whew! Consider a huge bullet dodged for the men in Crimson.

LSU came in with a great game-plan and showed inspired play. The Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match the athletic talent of Alabama on the field and it showed in Death Valley. The Tigers nearly pulled it off as Zach Mettenberger finally played like a quarterback of a big-time college football program, and the LSU defense throttled the Bama O-line most of the night.

In the end though, Alabama is the No. 1 team and defending national champions for a reason. AJ McCarron and the Tide offense did less than Rip Van Winkle on sleeping pills for almost the entire second half.

Almost.

Every championship team has a game in which it has to bank the odds and make a few plays in crunch time to get out of a game that seems to be heading south faster than a retiree in winter. This was THAT game for the Tide, and when it mattered, AJ McCarron picked up his shaken confidence, got back on the horse and made some plays.

His offensive line--which had been trying its best to beat back an energized LSU defense all game--kicked up its heels and gave its quarterback the time he needed to head back to Tuscaloosa beaten and battered, but beaten and battered in victory rather than defeat.

So with the win, Alabama is that much closer to sealing the deal as the SEC West’s champion and representative in Atlanta. LSU is eliminated from any type of championship even if a storm of unbelievable consequences ensues because of the tiebreaker it would lose to Alabama in the head to head category.

But ‘Bama has higher hopes than an SEC championship. It has plans of national grandeur that are still in play thanks in large part to its ability to walk out of Death Valley still breathing.

By Bart Doan
Follow me @Bart_cfn

They say greatness isn’t measured by what you do, but when you do it. The pretense is, anyone can be great when they don’t need to be, but only the truly elite can make things happen when there’s no other choice. AJ McCarron put one more foot in the pantheon tonight in Baton Rouge, against a vitriolic crowd and a world that wanted to see just how good Alabama really was.

It was every bit as entertaining as it could be hoped for. Lead changes, stupid turnovers, plays you wouldn’t assume would be made by said team, this game had it all. The narrative might be how good the SEC was, but mine is simply how exciting two of their top teams made Saturday night.

It was a masterfully coached game, even in the mistakes, because the teams gave themselves a chance to make them. McCarron’s death knell, a screen pass to TJ Yeldon that went for a touchdown with under a minute left, was the stuff of legends. So often we worry about a perfectly thrown fade route to the corner of the end zone as the defining moment for a quarterback. But sometimes just being smart enough to take the play in front of you is what so few have, but McCarron displayed.

LSU shouldn’t fret. Les MIles pulled out all the stops. It was a well coached game on his part, even in the mistakes. But in the end, Alabama just had too much, even tired, to let the game slide by. They’ll remember this one “forever.” As well they should.

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

Make no mistake about it: AJ McCarron belongs in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Was he perfect tonight? Of course not. As many predicted, McCarron didn't have his usual eye-popping statistics against LSU's vaunted pass rush, completing only 14-of-27 passes.

However, there's more to winning college football's highest honor than just numbers. Since the award goes to the nation's most outstanding player, it's only logical that the eventual winner should be at this best with the game - or in this case, the entire season - on the line.

The final drive proves exactly why McCarron should purchase a ticket to New York City when December rolls around.

Let's be honest: it looked like the Crimson Tide was going to lose this game. With just 1:34 to play, Alabama had to march 78 yards against one of the nation's best defenses to earn a W. Since the offense had only picked up one first down in the second half, it looked like it was going to take a miracle to escape Baton Rouge with a win.

That's when McCarron stepped up with the poise of a champion. Despite having a subpar performance for most of the day, he hit several big throws on the final drive. Sure, the game-winning TD came on a screen pass, but the fact that LSU was blitzing in that situation speaks volumes about how well McCarron was throwing the ball.

If that last paragraph doesn't describe the nation's most outstanding player, what does?